Slovak airport security test assailed

Irish enraged after explosives end up on flight

By Veronika Oleksyn and Karel Janicek
Associated Press / January 7, 2010

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BRATISLAVA, Slovakia - A failed airport security test ended up with a Slovak man unwittingly carrying hidden explosives in his luggage on a flight to Dublin, Slovak officials admitted yesterday - a mistake that enraged Irish authorities and shocked aviation specialists worldwide.

While the Slovaks attributed the incident to “a silly and unprofessional mistake,’’ Irish officials and security specialists said it was foolish for the Slovaks to hide actual bomb parts in the luggage of innocent passengers under any circumstances.

The passenger himself was detained by Irish police for several hours before being let go without charge Tuesday.

The Irish were also angry it took the Slovaks three days to tell them about the Saturday mistake and that the pilot of the airplane decided to fly to Dublin anyway even after being told that an explosive was in his aircraft’s checked luggage.

After being informed by the Slovaks, Irish authorities shut down a major Dublin intersection Tuesday and evacuated people from several apartment buildings as Irish Army specialists examined the explosive.

The unwitting passenger was identified by Irish police as Stefan Gonda, a 49-year-old Slovak electrician who lives and works in Ireland.

The incident was bound to heighten flying jitters after the Christmas near-disaster where, authorities say, a 23-year-old Nigerian suspect tried to detonate an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, only to be foiled by a passenger who jumped over seats to subdue him.

Security specialists said the Dublin episode illustrated the inadequacy of the screening of checked-in luggage - the very point Slovak authorities had sought to test when they placed bomb components in passengers’ bags.

Yet Clark Kent Ervin, the former inspector general of the US Homeland Security Department, called the Slovak test “crazy.’’

“It should be a controlled exercise,’’ Ervin said. “It never should be done to someone unwittingly.’’

“It’s unbelievable, it’s astonishing,’’ said Rick Nelson, a former Bush administration official who worked at the National Counterterrorism Center.

“I’m not sure what they were thinking using an unknowing civilian rather than an undercover security official,’’ he added.

Their comments were echoed by specialists in several nations.

Aviation analyst Chris Yates said someone should be fired, not only for the mistake, but also for how the entire operation was designed.

“Anything could happen,’’ he said. “That bag could go through a different carousel in the airport, you could lose it and you get the situation where you have RDX plastic explosive loaded into the cargo hold of an airplane, flown to another destination, and then you have to find’’ it.

Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kalinak expressed “profound regret’’ to the Irish government for the oversight and the delay in alerting them. But he said no one was in danger during the flight.